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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Purple Haze

I just heard that my friend Antoine Camilleri has died. This is a sad day indeed. I can't write more now, but I will later. Antoine was a very special person. He will be missed very much. May he rest in peace.


[later]: My parents will be attending Antoine's funeral on Thursday afternoon. The best I can do is use this blog to convey my sympathy with his family. While I was quite close to Antoine when I lived in Malta, I only knew some of his children and family members casually. Some of them may come to read this blog, so at least this may serve as a way to communicate with them.

I last saw Antoine in March, during my most recent visit to Malta, just a couple of weeks after his 83rd birthday. I had not seen him since 2000. We visited him at the St Vincent de Paule Hospital and Residential Home for the Elderly, where he had been living for a while since our previous encounter. He was not miserable. Antoine always made the best out of any given situation. However, he was not pleased to be surrounded by geriatric maladies and death. He tried to paint in the makeshift studio he managed to have fixed up for him in the ward where he was residing. Still, he confessed to me that he felt uninspired to create new works. It wasn't that he didn't have anything else to say or show but rather that the surroundings and the lifestyle at St Vincent de Paule's did not move him towards creativity. The wild horse in him had been tamed by the ravages of other people's old age and the way Maltese society deals with old people. I cried my eyes out when we left him that day. I knew I would probably never see him alive again, even though he seem far from his death bed.

Antoine hated the cold and damp winter of Malta. He complained of an almost-constant runny nose from November to February. I find great solace in thinking that he check-out right before the onset of another wintry season.

Besides a plentiful supply of memories (both happy and sad) I have many artifacts to help me remember my dear old friend. First and foremost my small collection of works by this great Maltese artist. Some were gifts from him. Others I bought, when I managed to overpower his insistence to "just take it" or "it's yours...just say you paid X for it, but I don't want any money from you." I even (stupidly?) turned down a lithograph of St Francis of Assisi he wanted to give me, simply because he would not let me pay him anything for it, not even the lunch we had later that day. He was so much more than a friend to me.

Luckily, I managed to capture our friendship on tape twice; once on audiotape in a lengthy interview I conduced at his studio in Zachary Street in Valletta in 1993, the other on videotape for my TV series Bricolage in 1998. I plan to digitize one of these two tapes now and upload it here as a tribute to my good friend Antoine.

I'm sure we'll meet again in that heaven for wild horses you once told me about.

Antoine Camilleri in 2005

Antoine Camilleri appears here with me and Mary Ann Caruana in March 2005.
She is the model in one of his paintings from 1984, which hangs in my bedroom.

Anonymous Reesa said...

hi toni, i was watching the news and heard that he had passed away, and i thought of you. it's a sad day... 

9:41 PM, November 23, 2005
Anonymous John Navarro said...

Dear Toni, Thank you for your article, I found it very moving. I consider myself very lucky, as Antione was my late mother's brother. I have very fond memories of him. In my early teens I used to help him with making the maskaruni (might not be the right spelling)for the carnival. I also took up painting and was encourged by him. I remember the old crowd of Maltese Artist who regularly met at dear departed Oliver Aguis country retreat. Those Sunday's were filled with wine and wisdom !!I however left Malta in 1967, and contact with Uncle Antione became somewhat irregular. Last time I saw him was at St Vincent De Paule Hospital.Well over a year ago. To me he alway's looked the same, age did not change him in any way. I do return to Malta three times a year. My next visit will seem rather empty knowing for the first time ever he is elsewhere. The best tribute I could think of when I heard the news from my sister Anna Marie, was to open a bottle of Red Lable, of which I have ample supply, and went out to buy myself a purple shirt. Thank you once again. 

10:28 PM, November 29, 2005
Anonymous Kristi Bergman said...

Thank you for sharing Antoine's comment about a "heaven for wild horses." I came to know Antoine in the mid-1980s when I was an exchange student at the Univ. of Malta. Among other works of his, I have a lithograph of Antoine's work 'Wild Horses' hanging in my home. It now has even greater meaning for me, if that is possible. The world is a better place because of Antoine Camilleri! 

5:18 PM, March 14, 2006

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